Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Gabriel—not Michael?

Biblegems #18
Is it significant that God sent Gabriel to both Joseph and Mary rather than Michael or some other angel?

Actually, the Bible does not specify that the angel who spoke to Joseph in a dream was Gabriel. All we know for sure is that it was “an angel of the Lord” (Matt. 1:20ff). His message to Joseph is strikingly similar, however, to Gabriel’s message addressed to Mary (Lk. 1:26ff); and Luke 1:19 tells us that it was Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah with the news that Elizabeth was to have a child in her old age. So it is certainly likely that the angel Joseph encountered was Gabriel as well.

The only other times in Scripture that Gabriel is mentioned by name is in the book of Daniel, chapters 8 and 9, where Daniel receives from the angel an interpretation of his vision of the end times. When we compare his activities with that of Michael, another angel of the Lord, some striking differences between them emerge.

In each angel encounter with Gabriel, he is quite talkative—not in a prattling way, but he does have much to say as he dialogues with humans. In contrast, the archangel Michael has virtually no direct communication with human beings, but rather acts as a guardian and protector for the prophet Daniel (Dan. 10:13) and for the people of Israel as a whole (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7). In fact, the only reference we have to Michael saying anything at all is from the book of Jude, where “the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (9).

From the evidence available in Scripture, it seems evident that God’s appointed role, at least in part, for Gabriel is to serve as His principal messenger to key people in the outworking of His plan of salvation throughout history. Michael’s principal role is apparently that of Israel’s protector from those who would derail God’s chosen people from their appointed place in God’s plan of salvation.

In either case, these glorious beings represent a vast host of heavenly beings (Heb. 12:12), all of whom are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:4). As beautiful, powerful and other-worldly as the angels are, “it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come…” (Heb. 2:5). “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

Gabriel’s great privilege was to announce to Mary, and very likely to Joseph, that they would be the earthly parents of the One he had already known and worshiped in heaven, and would come to know again and worship as the Lamb who had been slain.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why "Jesus"—not "Immanuel"?

Biblegems #17
Here is a great question someone has submitted for this Christmas season: “Why did they name Him Jesus when the OT said His name would be Immanuel?”

“Immanuel” shows up in Scripture only three times (Is. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:23), each time referring to the Messiah.

The first occurrence in Isaiah 7:14 prophecies that a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Matthew’s Gospel reports that the angel Gabriel, quoting this Scripture, announced to Joseph that Mary was the virgin of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that her child would be the “Immanuel” of that prophecy (Matt. 1:22). Yet it is also Gabriel who in the previous verse instructs Joseph to name the baby “Jesus” (Lit., Yahweh saves) because he will save his people from their sins (1:21).

So we know that Gabriel, as God’s messenger, understood “Immanuel” to be an adjective meaning “God with us,” not the Messiah’s name. Joseph also understood that naming the baby “Jesus” as the angel instructed did not contradict the Isaiah prophecy, but fulfilled it. This was further confirmed when the same angel instructed Mary to name the child “Jesus” (Lk. 1:31). Not only so, But Gabriel informs Mary that the child would be conceived through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, “so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). In other words, the child would be God—with us!

Even the similarity in phrasing is interesting: Isaiah says that the virgin “will call him” Immanuel, and Gabriel says that the child “will be called” the Son of God. Neither time is the phrase meant to indicate the baby’s name, only what terms would be eventually applied to Jesus. The same can be said of another familiar Isaiah prophecy concerning the Messiah:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

So it is clear that the phrase “will be called” was never meant to mean “will be named.” “Immanuel” refers to what Jesus is—God with us; and the name “Jesus,” though likewise highly symbolic in its meaning, refers to Jesus’ identity as a person. It is one thing to know in theory that there might be a unique person somewhere in existence who is “God with us.” It is something else entirely to know who this specific person is by name, because: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Remember, you can submit your Bible question in the comment box below and share the blessing with others!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?

Biblegems #16
Here’s a great, two-fold question from a young man concerning the Ark of the Covenant: 1) What happened to the Ark, and (2) will it be ever be found again?

Here’s what we know for certain: The Ark of the Covenant, which had accompanied the Hebrews during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and was then situated at a variety of locations in conquered Canaan for several hundred years, was finally brought to Jerusalem by King David. His son Solomon built the First Temple and brought the Ark into the Holy of Holies (1 Sam. 5-6). It remained there until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.

There are many theories as to what happened to the Ark. Some contend that it exists still in a cave within the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Others believe it survives in Africa or Egypt. But there is no real definitive proof as to its survival or possible whereabouts.

The apocryphal book of Maccabees, which relates the historical uprising of the Jews in Israel against the Seleucid Empire and the establishment of the Jewish Hasmonean Empire from 164 – 63 B.C., refers to the disappearance of the Ark. It states that the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on “the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God” (2 Macc. 2:4 RSV). The location was supposedly lost soon after, and Jeremiah is claimed to have prophesied that it would remain lost “until God gathers his people together again” in the days of the Messiah (2 Macc. 2:7-8 RSV).

The problem with this side-note in 2 Maccabees is that there is no record of such a prophecy in the book of Jeremiah itself. Indeed, Jeremiah prophesied that when the Messiah reigns on earth from Mt Zion, the Ark will not be recovered and “it will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made” (Jer. 3:16).

Most likely, from the limited information available, 1) the Ark was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians (their record of the Temple artifacts brought back to Babylon does not include the Ark), or (2) The Ark was buried beneath the Temple just before the Temple was destroyed.

Jeremiah’s prophecy should remind us that the Ark ‘s purpose was fulfilled in the Old Testament, and its foreshadowing of the cross of Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. Other than satisfying a certain archeological curiosity, its recovery would serve no further spiritual value. And, when Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom, the Ark—if it were found—would seem as nothing more than a gold-covered box in comparison with the beauty, power, majesty and of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Sources: T he Jewish Virtual Library is a division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise; LIVIUS , Articles on Ancient History (online); 2 Maccabees, RSV; The Bible (NIV),

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Which Simon Is Which?

Biblegems #15
Is Simon the Leper in Matthew 26 the same person as the Simon mentioned in the other three Gospels?

The name “Simon” comes up 74 times throughout the four Gospels, so it’s no wonder that there is some confusion as to which “Simon” is which, or if they are all one and the same person!

Matthew 26:6-7 tells us that, “While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” Anointing was a common practice in Bible times, and done for a variety of purposes (Ps. 23:5; 133:2; Is. 1:6; Ps. 104:15; Lev. 14:17-18). Also at the house with Jesus were his disciples (v.8), and perhaps several others not mentioned by name (Mk. 14:4).

“Simon the Leper” is referred to only in Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3. Jesus was eating at Simon’s home in Bethany of Judea on the Mount of Olives two days before the Passover. Simon was likely present. If so, he had been healed of his leprosy, perhaps by Jesus, because Jewish law would otherwise have required him to be quarantined outside the village and prohibited him from any social contact whatsoever.

During the meal a woman anoints Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, and is then rebuked by many at the table, possibly even Simon himself, for being wasteful (Matt. 26:7-9). Jesus, of course, commended the woman and prophesied that she would always be remembered for her kindness whenever the gospel was told (Matt. 26:13).

A similar account is recorded in John 12:1-8, and another in Luke 7:36-40. But these two events are not identical. The woman in John’s Gospel is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and that anointing takes place six days before the Passover. The anointing in Mathew and Mark takes place two days before the Passover. The events also take place in two different homes in Bethany.

The anointing of Jesus in Luke 7:36-40 probably occurred two years earlier, during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, not Judea. The woman in this case had once been a prostitute. She anointed Jesus at the home of Simon (a Pharisee, not a leper). She anointed Jesus feet, not his head, and dried them with her hair. No one complained about the cost this time, but took offense that Jesus would allow a sinful woman to touch him.

So, in answer to the question, these are three different Simons associated with three different women who performed a very common act of kindness for Jesus in different locations and at different times of Jesus ministry.

Do you have a question for Biblegems? You can submit your question by writing it in the comment box below. Look for new Biblegems next Tuesday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Departing From Christ’s Doctrines

Biblegems #14
Does “departing from the doctrines of Christ” include those that teach that your salvation depends on what you do — for example, those who teach that you are saved by your repentance and keep your salvation by doing good works?

This question has its source in 2 John 9, which reads, Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (KJV). The same verse in the NIV reads, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

To answer this question correctly we need to check two fundamental principles of biblical interpretation. The first principle has to do with context. The second principle has to do with grammar.

Looking at the context of verse 9 requires that we go backward in 2 John to see what John was referring to when he used the phrase, “the doctrine (KJV) or teaching (NIV) of Christ.” That takes us to verse 7 where John cautions the Church about false teachers who do not acknowledge the incarnation of Christ. In fact, it is that critical doctrine that is the focal point of John’s concern in this short letter because what is at stake for the Church is the very nature of Jesus Himself as God in human flesh.

Looking at the grammatical construction of verse 9, especially word usage, we notice that John carefully uses the word “doctrine” in the singular, not plural, form. This tells us that John has a particular doctrine in mind, which he refers to as “the doctrine of Christ.” Once again, this draws us back to verse 7 where this specific doctrine is addressed. Both the context and the word usage agree that John is referring to the doctrine of the incarnation.

So the answer to the question — Does “departing from the doctrines of Christ” include those that teach that your salvation depends on what you do…? — is No. That is not what 2 John 9 is referring to. Other places in Scripture may address this subject, but not 2 John verse 9. And that is very important to recognize, because we need to be extremely careful not to use any phrase of Scripture in an overly generalized sense when its terminology and context is very specific, as in this case.

Remember this axiom: a text without the context is a pre-text. In other words, without the context in which a verse or portion of a verse is found, a text can appear to mean just about anything or apply to any variety of doctrines. Keeping the context always in view when interpreting Scripture will protect us from this error and allow the Bible to say what it means and mean what it says. And that is a real Bible gem!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hired Hand Or Bond Slave?

Biblegems #13
In the parable of the prodigal son, why did the son want to be a hired hand, independent, working for pay, instead of a bond slave who recieved no pay, had no legal rights and no freedom (Luke 15:17-20)?

Bond slaves in the New Testament are symbolic of the believer’s position in Christ. We have been bought with a price and are His possession with no rights of our own, no independence, and totally under the authority of our Master. Why then, in Jesus’ parable, does the son seek a paid position in which he retains his independence?

The primary difference between a hired servant and a bond slave is, of course, that one gets paid while the other does not. It would seem on the surface that the prodigal son saw himself as deserving to get compensation for his work (if his father would even hire him), whereas in the role of a slave he could reasonably expect no more than food, shelter and the level of protection extended to any “property” owned by the father.

In New Testament times, however, when up to one out of every three persons was a slave, a bond slave was usually a permanent fixture in a family. That in itself provided a nearly guaranteed “job security” that a hired servant could only dream about. A hired servant could be let go when no longer needed, fired, have his pay withheld, etc. Not only so, but he was paid only for work actually performed, which may or may not have been sufficient to meet his needs. A bond slave, on the other hand, was fed, clothed and housed regardless of the fluctuations in workload from day to day. Slavery, in that sense, was much like a salaried position with benefits.

In addition to all this, because bond slaves were such a permanent part of the household, they were more often than not treated as family, even loved as family. Those who served with distinction and loyalty frequently received pay or bonuses to acknowledge their hard work and faithfulness. The life of a slave in many cases was much more comfortable than the hired servant who worked just as hard or harder, but received less for his trouble.

So, for the prodigal son to beg his father to take him on as a hired servant rather than a bond slave meant that he was offering himself for a position with no job security, no benefits and no sense of family or belonging. His independence would be a detriment rather than an asset.

In Jesus’ parable, the prodigal son does not see himself worthy of the privileges a bond slave has over a hired servant. He no longer hopes for any special treatment whatsoever. The depth of his repentance makes him willing to be cut off from any meaningful relationship with his family, resigned to a life of independence that will make him a slave of loneliness. Fortunately, his father’s love and mercy save the son from such a fate, providing what the son could never provide for himself. What a beautiful story of God’s saving grace!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Original Carnivores?

Biblegems #12
In a comment on Biblegems #8, “The First Carnivores,” the question was raised: So does this mean there were no original carnivores?

The short answer is Yes… and No!

As was stated in Biblegems #8, carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears probably existed with the ability to eat other animals while Adam and Eve still inhabited the Garden of Eden, but they were commanded by God to eat only vegetation. The same would have been true of the first two humans as well. They had the physical capabilities necessary for eating meat but were restricted by God to a vegetarian diet until after the flood. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us:
           Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The real question is, why? If God made people and animals with the ability to eat meat, and later gave His approval for eating meat, why was it not permitted in the early days of creation before the Fall of man?

The answer is that the death of living beings was not part of the original creation design. As normal as death seems to us now as part of the “circle of life,” it was not that way in the beginning. Death was introduced to the created realm by sin:
         Rom. 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And in the New Heavens and New Earth, death will no longer be part of the universe:
Rev. 21:3-4: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The “old order” referred to in Revelation 21 is the current order of man’s rebellion against God and the devastation that rebellion has brought into God’s beautiful creation throughout history. Before the Fall of man human beings were given the role and the authority to control the behavior of earth’s creatures:
           Gen. 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Since the Fall of man earth’s creatures no longer recognize man’s authority over them. The created realm exists in a state of turmoil and confusion, instinctively awaiting the day when mankind will be restored to a right relationship with his Creator and to his rightful place of authority in the universe:
          Rom. 8:19-22: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation… itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

That day will come with the return of Jesus Christ in glory, bringing with Him all those who have put their faith in Him during this time of sin, suffering and death. At that time Jesus will establish His kingdom and the sons and daughters of God will reign with Him forever (Rev. 5:10; 20:6; 22:5). And from that time on…
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Last Adam

1 Corinthians 15:45
Biblegems #11
In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul refers to Jesus as the "Last Adam" where he says, "So it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being': The Last Adam a life-giving Spirit." The question is, why would Paul call Jesus the "Last Adam?"

Our reference verse tells us that the “First Adam” became a living “soul”: that is, God formed from earthly components the shape and biological functions of the person we know as Adam and gave him the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). In this respect, the “First Adam” became a proto-type of all other humanity to follow. All humanity would be living souls created in the image of God (see Biblegems #10) in the same fashion that Adam was a living soul.

The “Last Adam,” Jesus, is a new proto-type, the first in a series of a new kind of human being. Jesus is referred to here as “Adam” because the new proto-type still deals with beings formed of earthly components. In fact, the same human beings who descended from the “First Adam” are now about to undergo a dramatic change and become like the “Last Adam.” As human beings, we are born in Adam, so to speak, and have received from him our biological nature and our imageo-dei. However, those who surrender their lives to Jesus inherit from Jesus a new nature—a human life indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.

Likewise, in Adam we inherit the sin nature, and death as its consequence. Both are passed on genetically and by example:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother
conceived me (Ps. 51:5).

But, in the “Last Adam,” we inherit eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20).

The “First Adam” passed on to the human race a mortal body, while the “Last Adam” passes on to those who are in Him a glorious, indestructible, resurrection body fit for eternal life.

Finally (although there is much more that could be said about the subject), just as the “First Adam” was not followed by a series of other proto-types, but became the model for all subsequent humanity, Jesus is called the “Last Adam” because there will be no other transformations that humanity will undergo. All humanity will forever after fall into on of two categories: in Adam or in Jesus Christ; in the “First Adam” or in the “Last Adam.” As Paul says in our reference verse, Jesus, the “Last Adam” has become a life-giving spirit; and we who are in Jesus are recipients of that new life that only He can give!

Thanks for the question! Please post your comments and other questions below for future Biblegems posts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Made In God's Image

Biblegems #10
Gen. 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” Gen. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

What did God intend for us to understand “image” to mean, both here and throughout Scripture?

It is not insignificant that these first three uses of the word “image” in the Bible are followed by a nearly parallel passage in 5:3: Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image.” In other words: like father, like son. They are identical in kind (human) and similar in likeness (sharing similarities in appearance, personality, etc).

In its simplest context, without adding later NT theology, Genesis is telling us that Adam (lit., “of the earth”) is a physical, limited facsimile of God. Human beings are physical and limited in nature, whereas God is unlimited and spirit in nature (Jn. 4:24). Human beings are created, whereas God is uncreated. Man is like God but not God. Adam’s son was born like Adam, but not Adam.

This is precisely what the Hebrew words for “image” (selem) and “likeness” (demuth) indicate. Selem is the word used of carved images, such as statues and idols (1 Sam. 6:5; 2 Ki. 11:18), and demuth indicates an exact model, pattern or representation of something (2 Ki. 16:10). So, like God, we have a spirit, but we are not solely Spirit, as He is. Possessing a spirit enables us to relate to God on a spiritual level (1 Cor. 6:11), but being one with Him does not make us identical to Him.

The New Testament brings a greater depth of revelation: When Jesus took on human nature (Phil.2:7), the Scripture is clear that He was “made” (not created) in human likeness. For example, all marine life was created at once, brought into existence where none had previously existed (Gen. 1:21), but He “made” the atmosphere by separating the watery substance of the primal earth into two bodies (Gen. 1:7).

Likewise, the pre-existing Jesus (Jn. 1:1ff) was “made” in human likeness. He was formed and patterned after Adam, the first perfect “image” of God. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1Cor. 15:45). As a human being, Jesus was made in the image of Adam, who was made in the image of God.

As God in human form, Jesus stands apart from the rest of God’s image bearers as the only One who can give life. We can only receive that life and so become children of God (1 John 3:1). But even that high privilege does not make us divine, for we are always heirs—recipients—of the promise that is granted to us by His grace. Jesus alone is the “author and perfector of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). We will always be in His debt and subject to Him. Even as we reign with Him in eternity, it will not be on His throne, but at His right and left hand (Mk. 10:40). What an honor to be among those in God’s masterful creation who bear His image! But it is an honor granted, not earned, and therefore one that should keep us in a state of perpetual humility and gratitude.

References: 1. (Vernon O. Elmore. Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'IMAGE OF GOD'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
 . 1991.) 2. Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Record, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michgan. Copyright, 1976. 3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Press, Chicago, Ill. Copyright 1980.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When Does “David” mean “Jesus"

Biblegems #9
Question: When does “David” mean “Jesus” in Scripture
— and how do we know?

Old Testament prophecy often refers to the Messiah, Jesus, as sitting on David’s throne. Perhaps the most well known is rehearsed in churches every Christmas:
       Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Probably the most singular example of biblical prophecy where David may not refer to the Messiah is Ezekiel 34:23-24:
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

The setting is the Millennial Kingdom when Christ will reign for a thousand years on the earth (Rev. 20:6). He will restore Israel as a people to Himself and to the Promised Land (Jer. 23:5-6), and from Jerusalem in Zion He will restore and govern the entire earth (Micah 4:2). Here, taken at face value, Ezekiel prophesies that during the Messiah’s Millennial reign: I will place over them one shepherd, my servant Davidand my servant David will be prince among them — ruling over the descendants of Jacob. Hosea, speaking of the same time period says, Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king.

Throughout prophetic Scripture, when the Messiah is linked to king David’s throne, He is David’s Seed (Is. 6:13), David’s descendant (Ps. 132:11-12), the righteous Branch (Jer. 33:15), etc. A distinction is always carefully made between David Himself and the Messiah to come. But in Ezekiel 34, David himself is said to sit on the throne with the very limited task of ruling over restored Israel. And to emphasize the point that David is not to be metaphorically confused with God, Ezekiel 34:24 says, “I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince…”

The passages in Ezekiel and Hosea do not stand alone. Jeremiah also prophesies of that Millennial Kingdom: Instead, they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them (Jer. 30:9).

A straightforward reading of Scripture is always the best guide to it’s own meaning. Unless the Bible itself clues us in that terms are to be taken symbolically (Seed, Branch, etc.), let the Bible say what it means and mean what it says. It should not be surprising that David will serve such a role in the Millennium: Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6)!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Did Lions Become Carnivores?

Biblegems #8
Question: How did lions become carnivores?

This is a great question from one of our Friendship kids!
What makes it such a great question is that it reveals an understanding that man and animals were not always carnivorous (Gen. 1:29-30). If they were, then death would have been part of the original creation, as evolutionary science teaches, not the later result of man’s sin (Rom. 6:23). And if evolutionary science were correct on that point, then Jesus’ death on the cross would be meaningless. As Paul writes in Romans, “so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:12).

So, what does the Bible have to say about how (and when) lions and other animals became carnivores?

First, we know that lions were strictly plant-eating animals when God first created them. Genesis 1:30 says, “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. And it was so.” This was true of the first human beings as well. Verse 29 reads, “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Secondly, we know that man was given permission by God to eat meat following the Great Flood: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:3). We also know that animals were already eating meat by that time (Gen. 9:5-6).

It seems clear then that lions and other carnivorous animals began eating meat sometime between Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and the worldwide Flood. Does that mean that a physical change took place in lions—the development of fangs and talons, for example—that made them capable of killing and eating other animals? It’s certainly possible, even as God caused thorns and thistles to grow where once only beautiful, healthful vegetation had grown (Gen. 3:18).

But it is equally, if not more, likely that animals such as lions were originally created with that carnivorous capability. God knew that Adam and Eve’s sin would radically change the balance of life across the planet, and that the struggle for survival would come to play a key role in the animal realm as well as the human realm. Although God’s command to man to rule over wildlife had never been rescinded, man’s ability to do so without force came to an end after the Fall. Man’s disobedience to God turned the garden-like earth into a dangerous place; and God probably prepared the animal realm in advance for surviving in that deadly new world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seven… Sevens… or Seven Pairs? in Genesis 7:2

Biblegems #7

In the account of Noah bringing animals into the ark, Bible translators seem to have some difficulty accurately conveying into English the number of clean animals that were to board the ark. Genesis 7:2 in the KJV reads:
      “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female…

The English Standard Version (ESV) reads,
      “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals,* the male and his mate…

The question is, which translation —“sevens” or “seven pairs” best reflects the Hebrew? To muddy the waters just a little more, lets see how some other translations have handled the question.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) uses a double adjective, “seven-seven (hepta hepta), male and female…,” while the New English (NET) translates it “seven of every kind of clean animal, the male and its mate…” The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reads, “seven pairs, a male and its female…” and the New International (NIV) has “seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate…”

Why is there so much variation? The answer to that question brings up a key sticking point of any translation from one language to another: When do you translate exactly, word for word, and when do you sacrifice exact wording to accurately communicate the sense? To show how difficult that can be at times, here is Genesis 7:2 taken from the NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, vol. 1:
      “From-every-of the animal the clean you take with you seven seven male and mate–of-him…”

Translating word for word is not a simple matter, and often not possible at all because of how languages are structured differently from one another. However, the Hebrew clearly indicates that seven males and seven females of each kind of clean animal were to board the ark. Each of the translations listed above seek to reflect that fact, some using the principle of keeping as close to the Hebrew wording as possible, others using the principle of conveying the Hebrew meaning as accurately as possible.

What a motivation to pray for those whom God has called to the important ministry of Bible translation!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NT Near-Quotes From The OT

Bible-gems #6
Have you ever wondered why so many New Testament “quotes” from the Old Testament are different from the Old Testament itself—sometimes vastly different?

A good example is John 12:39-40:
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

The apostle John cites Isaiah 6:9-10, especially verse 10, as he reflects back on the first Palm Sunday when many in the crowds that day still did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, despite the miracles they had witnessed with their own eyes (Jn. 12:37).

However, the passage in Isaiah 6:10 reads a little differently in the Old Testament:
“ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Why is there this difference? For that matter, this same reference in Isaiah is referred to two other times in the New Testament, once by Jesus (Matthew 13:15) and once by the apostle Paul. Each time the passage is not quoted exactly as it is found in the Old Testament. Again, why not?

John, Jesus and Paul are seeing the prophecy in Isaiah as being fulfilled before their very eyes. In each case, they apply the truth of Isaiah’s prophetic message while changing the wording (not the meaning) enough to fit their particular circumstances. The truth was, the Jewish people had become spiritually blind and deaf, and would remain so even to the coming of the Messiah, the “Holy Seed,” in the midst of a desolate existence (v. 13). Jesus and the apostles were not intending to quote Isaiah word for word, but to paraphrase the passage as an application to their specific circumstances.

We often do the same: “He will never leave you or forsake you,” we say to someone in need of encouragement, applying the truth—but changing the wording—of Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you

When the New Testament authors use this “applicational” approach to Scripture, they do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, God Himself guarantees the Truth is being conveyed accurately, even if the words are altered for the occasion. The New Testament application of Old Testament Truth becomes Scripture itself. God, the author of His Word, has the privilege of rewording to get His point across.

The Isaiah passage highlights just one type of New Testament uses of Old Testament passages. Below are a few more ways the New Testament writers handle the Old Testament under the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Often, in fact usually, the NT writers quote from the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX), because Greek was the common language of the day. If the apostles needed to clarify the wording of the Greek version they frequently amended the common translation by inserting a more literal wording from the original Hebrew where needed, sometimes translating the Hebrew themselves. A modern preacher uses this same technique, clarifying a portion of Scripture in an English translation by inserting the original Greek and its more literal (or more colloquially useful) translation for his listeners.

Sometimes an OT idea or teaching is being drawn out in the NT by condensing an OT verse or taking a familiar OT phrase and allowing the abbreviated reference to trigger the listeners recall of the larger passage. This use of Scripture was a common teaching device called the remez. Again, we use similar teaching aids when we use Scriptural phrases like “the blood of the Lamb” or “every knee shall bow,” expecting that our hearers will fill in the blanks in their own minds.

The New Testament treats the Old Testament as “living and active,” not wooden and stagnant. It never changes the Truth, but always seeks to apply it in a fresh and meaningful way.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The “Sons of Korah”

Biblegems #5

Question: Who are the "sons of Korah"?

Psalm 42 is the first of eleven Psalms in the Bible authored by the “Sons of Korah” (42—49; 84; 87; 88). This Psalm opens with the beautiful words that have often been applied to new music over the centuries, As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. But this longing testifies of a time when the Jewish people were cut off from their homeland (v. 6) and abused by their captors (v.3, 9-10). Leading worship in the temple was a memory for the psalmist (v. 4); and it was this painful reality that brought forth the words, My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (v.2).

Who are these Sons of Korah, writing during one of Israel’s long periods of captivity, long after king David’s reign? How did they come to the privileged place of composing psalms under the inspiration of God’s Spirit that would minister to future generations from the pages of God’s Word?

Korah was a descendent of Levi. The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans (Ex. 6:24). Korah, like his brothers, Rueben and Simeon, wrestled with a strong rebellious streak all his life. It cost him (and his brothers) their inheritance (Gen 49:3-8), and the tribes descending from Rueben and Simeon eventually became absorbed by the other tribes.

Levi’s descendants faced this same prospect as well. However, by God’s grace, the tribe of Levi was appointed by Moses to assist Aaron in his duties as Israel’s priest, and ultimately became Israel’s priesthood clan, entrusted with overseeing the worship and the care of the temple. Even so, Korah abused this position of trust by organizing a rebellion against Moses in the Wilderness, for which he and his followers were all killed (Numb. 16). That might have ruined any future ministry for his Sons. But they had not engaged as a clan in the uprising. Once again, God’s grace intervened and they were allowed to continue serving the Lord in the sanctuary.

As Israel’s worship leaders, the Sons of Korah would bring more to the worship experience over the years than simply guiding thousands through the rituals of worship in the Temple services. God used the often trying life-experiences these descendants of Levi endured to bring from the depths of the heart a hunger for God’s presence that resonate in our own hearts to this day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Are “Those Two”? Proverbs 24:21-22 (NKJV)

Biblegems #4

Question: In the New King James Version, Proverbs 24:21-22 reads, My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change; For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? Who are “those two” in verse 22?

The New King James provides some clarification over the KJV, which reads, My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?

The confusion likely comes from our misunderstanding of another phrase in verse 21, “those given to change” (lit., “people who change1).When the proverb says, “Do not associate with those given to change,” reference is being made to those people who don’t fear the LORD or the king and are willing to rebel against (change) their laws. Verse 21 teaches, then, to fear both God and the government, and not to hang out with people who are inclined to rebel against either one. The NIV seeks to make this idea in verse 21 very clear: “Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious…”

Both the apostle Peter and Paul draw from this verse in their instruction to believers to honor both God and the government in everyday life. Peter says, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). In similar fashion, the apostle Paul writes, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. …Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1).

Verse 22 describes what can be expected by those who rebel against God or the government: their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? (NKJV) So then, the phrase “those two” refers back to “the LORD and the king” in verse 21. They are the two who will bring great calamity and ruin upon those who rebel against them. What a great word of caution for those who are inclined to justify a rebellious spirit as if such rebellion were pleasing to God!
1 THE EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, in loc.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interpreting Proverbs

Biblegems #3

Question: Is the Book of of Proverbs to be understood literally?

For example, Proberbs 15:1 teaches that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Taken literally, doesn’t this mean that a gentle anger always turns away wrath and that harsh words always stir up anger? The obvious answer seems to be “no,” that this proverb is making a general point. But if that is the case, what does that do to a literal understanding of Scripture?

The Bible is comprised of many different types of writing—history, poetry, instruction, prophecy, teaching, etc. Proverbs is a teaching style. Each kind of literature style has its own rules of interpretation. For example, Matthew 27:5 records that Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, “threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” The writing style is narrative—it tells us of an event that took place. Mark 16:15, on the other hand, is instruction. Jesus is giving His Great Commission to the church through His disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” From that instruction the doctrine and practice of evangelism and world missions developed, and rightly so. That was Jesus’ intent and purpose.

Both the Mark passage and the Matthew passage are to be understood literally. Fortunately, however, the purpose of the Matthew 27 narrative was to tell us what happened to Judas, not instruction on what we should do if we make serious mistakes we later regret. The purpose of Jesus’ instruction in Mark 16 was to launch world evangelization. So also, the purpose of the teaching in Proverbs 15:1 is to guide our behavior in a tense interpersonal situation. If this were a prophetic writing style, prophetic rues of interpretation would take over and the passage might be understood to tell us what will happen in the future …but that is not the case. 

Understood literally, as a teaching, God is giving us guidance in how to conduct ourselves in situations where tempers might get out of control. It does not tell us prophetically that every time we respond to someone’s angry outburst that our gentle reply will instantly calm the person down. It does show us what we can do to help turn an ugly situation into one that will honor the Lord and restore peace much better than a shouting match!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"You are gods"

Bible Gems #2

Question: What did Jesus mean when He quoted Scripture, saying, Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods’ (John 10:34 NIV)?

Jesus quoted Ps. 82:6 in response to a charge by the Jewish leaders that He was committing blasphemy, claiming to be God, when they believed Him to be a “mere man” (v. 33). The Jews were ready to stone Jesus to death because of His claim to deity (v. 30). So we need a quick look at Psalm 82 to understand where Jesus was coming from.
Ps. 82:6 reads “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.

This line concludes a Psalm in which God is portrayed as holding a trial where He condemns the pagan “gods” of the Canaanites, and their human counterparts, for abusing the authority He has allowed them exercise (vv. 2-4). In the context of this Psalm—and in the context of history—the human rulers of the Canaanite nations often claimed deity for themselves. God’s judgment would reveal their claim on deity to be false because they would die like mere men” (v. 7)—the very phrase the Jewish leaders used of Jesus.

So— Jesus challenged His accusers to prove He was not God. First, He pointed out that God Himself referred to those He condemned in Psalm 82 as “gods” (Jn. 10:34-35). The Psalm itself goes further by saying that God called them “sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6). Well, Jesus argued, if those who abused God’s spiritual authority could be called “gods” and “sons of the Most High” by God Himself, why shouldn’t Jesus be able to refer to Himself as “God’s Son” (Jn. 10:36)? 

Secondly, if the argument from Scripture wasn’t enough to convince His accusers, then why not recognize that He was not a “mere man” based on the miracles He performed before their very eyes?

Jesus was a master (not surprisingly) at taking the words of His accusers and turning them back on themselves. In this case, all it took was the little reference in the accusers’ charge that Jesus was a “mere man” for Jesus to connect that phrase to Psalm 82 where God condemned those whom He had given the right to be called “gods” and “sons of the Most High,” stripped them of their authority and title, and dealt with them as “mere men.” What a challenge for us to know God’s Word so well that we can apply it instantly to any situation! And what a caution to be very careful in claiming for ourselves any spiritual role or title that might put us under the heavy hand of God’s judgment, revealing for all to see that we are only mere men!